Pope offers message of 'hope against darkness'
Pope Francis offered a Christmas message of hope against darkness that cloaks conflicts and relationships in large parts of the world from the Middle East to the Americas to Africa.
The Pope told tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans gathered in St Peter's Square for the annual Christmas Day message that "the light of Christ is greater" than the darkness "in human hearts" and "in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts".
The traditional "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and to the world") Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to address suffering in the world and press for solutions.
Pope Francis was flanked by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the president of the papal council for migrants, and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope's official almsgiver. The Pope cited the Syrian people "who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade", as well as Israel, where Jesus "was born as the saviour of mankind and where so many people - struggling but not discouraged - still await a time of peace, security and prosperity".
The Pontiff also called for an easing of the crisis in Lebanon, social tensions in Iraq and the "grave humanitarian crisis" in Yemen.
He noted that a number of countries in the Americas "are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval", citing "the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions".
The Pope also noted migrants forced by injustice "to emigrate in the hope of a secure life".
Instead of finding acceptance, Francis said, injustice continues along their journey, where they often face abuse, enslavement and torture in "inhumane detention camps" and death during dangerous sea and desert crossings.
The Pope offered prayers of hope for the people of Africa, including those in Congo "torn by continuing conflicts" and the people of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where people have been "persecuted for their religious faith".
Francis also joined the Archbishop of Canterbury and a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland in calling for rival chiefs of war-torn South Sudan to maintain a pledge to form a coalition government early next year.